Book reviews

There must be a demand for modern books about our native flora because this month has yielded up three new publications.

100 best native plants for new zealand gardens (do not ask me what happened to capital letters. I am just a retired school teacher who still understands the grammatical difference between less and fewer) is a fully updated edition of a very popular 2001 book by Fiona Eadie. Notwithstanding the lower case book title, this excellent book combines passion, scholarship and practical gardening experience. It has a wealth of information about the author’s current pick of her favourite New Zealand plants (25% have changed, apparently, since the earlier version which reflects her move from Auckland to Dunedin).

I do like a book which doesn’t patronise by dumbing everything down to the lowest common denominator but which can instead combine popular appeal, enthusiasm, technical knowledge, information and botanical detail in one package. Each plant has a couple of photographs (assorted photographers – the quality is a little variable), botanical name, common names, a general description and sections on likes and dislikes, pests and problems, care and maintenance, landscaping suggestions, similar species and named cultivars.. The information is accessible and useful. There is plenty of information without drowning the reader. From acaena to xeronema, this is a good book to have and encapsulates some of the unique plants which make our gardens different from the rest of the world who have yet to see beyond our cordylines and pongas.

The Cultivation of New Zealand Grasses by Lawrie Metcalf is also an update of an earlier publication by the same author with revised text and fresh photos. Lawrie Metcalf is widely respected for his passion and his scholarship. This is the definitive reference book on our native grasses – their propagation, care, use in the garden or landscape, their botany and an A to Z listing of the different varieties. The topic has not been dumbed down for the masses but it remains perfectly readable and easily understood. It is a little shy on photos but if grasses are your thing, either professionally or as a hobby, you will not want to be without this book. And if grasses are not your favourite plant, it may inspire you to look beyond their use in motorway sidings and traffic islands.

Living with Natives, edited by Ian Spellerberg and Michele Frey is a curious publication to come from the Canterbury University Press because it is basically a coffee table book unashamedly targeting a populist market with no pretence of scholarship. It is a collection of 44 short essays by an eclectic mix of New Zealanders ostensibly about their love of native plants. The problem is that by no means all of the 44 have something worth saying. A house guest at the weekend who is passionate about natives (the plants, I mean) and is a botanist, gave up when she read the piece where Bob Harvey thinks his kauri is beginning to recognise him.

However, it is a nicely put together book with lovely photos by John Maillard and some of the contributors do have something to offer including some helpful advice and hints rather than platitudes or clichés, so if you like coffee table books, you may find it an interesting insight into different people’s love of our country. I just think it would have benefited from more rigorous editing.

100 best native plants for new zealand gardens, Fiona Eadie (Random House, $44.95) ISBN 978 1 86962 150 6

The Cultivation of New Zealand Grasses, Lawrie Metcalf (Random House, $34.99) ISBN 978 1 86962 148 3

Living With Natives, edited by Ian Spellerberg and Michele Frey (Canterbury University Press, $39.95) ISBN 978 1 877257 68 1